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Reflection on King Abdullah ibn ABDULAZIZ’s rule


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Abdullah ibn ABDULAZIZ (photo), the 6th King of Saudi Arabia, born on 1st of August 1924; died in the morning of 23rd of January 2015[1]. This date of birth is uncertain, since the dates or years of birth published were inconsequent.

In a general line King ABDULLAH, promised much more than he did in the past 10 years of reign. He started his official rule in 2005, when he was 81. But he was a de facto ruler after his brother’s stroke, King FAHD. He was prepared for taking up the position but it seems that with the array of domestic, regional, democratic problems and, with only rising oil revenues by his side, he has encountered many stumbles in bolstering reform in the kingdom.

Given his maternal line and a speech impediment his rise to power was not so smooth. It was only in 1962 when he entered Saudi administration, when he became commander of the National Guard, whose task was to protect the royal house. He continued hereinafter, becoming second deputy prime minister in 1975 and first deputy prime minister in 1982. Crown prince under the rule of his half-brother FAHD (1982-2005), ABDULLAH became de facto ruler in 1995, and king in August 2005. “His main challenge was to rule amid an ageing group of powerful princes, each desperate to occupy the throne”.[2]

Groups of Saudis requested or at least expected from him change on social, educational, ruler ship and economic issues when he was crown prince and a minority among Saudis considered that he should give more credit to the public participation. The most radical on the liberal side wished to impose a passage to constitutional monarchy. Reformers demanded that ABDULLAH should establish an elected consultative assembly to replace the 120-member appointed Shura council. However, the reformers remained unanswered.

Nonetheless, by Saudi standards, ABDULLAH was a modernizer, appointing the first female government minister and appointing 30 women to the Shura Council in 2013. But in fact, the liberal opposition expected more from him, whereas he found himself challenged by the Saudi apparatus functioning by old tribal norms.

His rule also met a time of Iran’s growing influence in the region. The West looked at Saudi Arabia as the counterbalance to Iran in the region. At the same time, in the recent time the West has also tried to approach Iran. In spite of the vast oil revenues, the king was not successful to secure leadership among Arab leaders and unite them under one umbrella. He could not even rally around the same cause all Sunni leaders.

One of the biggest challenges during his rule was to appease the fact that Saudi citizens were implicated in the attack on the twin towers, on 9/11. He had to promise to the USA religious and educational reforms, and of course continuation of the military cooperation. He tried to restrict teaching from the extremist books in schools. He also continued to allow the US to use Saudi bases when going to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

The king promoted himself as the champion of women’s rights trying to make it fade that Saudi Arabia’s image is associated with women’s oppression. He initiated also scholarship funding for a large available to a large number of Saudi. His development projects, new universities and industrial cities were considered costly, responding less to social claims in the public eye.

As for the personal life, he is believed to have had around 30 wives, 15 sons and 20 daughters. As for the birth date, the number of wives is also disputed.

At the moment, the question is what comes after his rule. Under Saudi Arabia’s ‘complicated system, power is not passed by primogeniture. The power is transmitted from brother to brother among the 45 sons (borne by many women) of Abdel Aziz bin SAUD, who was the founder of Saudi State in 1932. By these days all the siblings are aged or already dead.

The difficult task will be to pass rule onto the next generation, where hundreds of princes are impatient to rise to power. These include members of the powerful Sudairi line. King SALMAN, who succeeded ABDULLAH, himself a Sudairi, announced few hours after his coming to power, clearing uncertainty over the transition to the next generation that his nephew is going to be Interior Minister- Prince Mohammed bin NAYEF, 55, as second in-line to the throne behind MOQREN, youngest of Abdulaziz sons.

Despite his short fallings, ABDULLAH embodied for many Saudis the benevolent father-figure. His successors may not be so fortunate. King Salman’s comes in one of the less stable stages in the development of the kingdom that is the downturn of the oil marker for the top oil producer; is home to Islam’s holiest sites of Mecca and Medina at a time when jihadist violence has sky-rocketed; and has been involved in the changes surrounding the regimes of the region. Internally: there are turbulences as well; the country stays super conservative, being the only country where women cannot drive, and clerics resisting any major change. And there is a rumor that the public balance is not so doing as well as the admittedly huge, reserves.[3]

Few reckon that the new king, King SALMAN, represents any change. A former governor of Riyadh, he is thought to think alike King ABDULLAH, while some think he might be slightly more conservative. In addition, there are rumors about the frailty of his health that might encourage crown-prince MOQREN to take a leading role in the kingdom.

All in all, Saudi Arabia is very much an oil story, having had King ABDULLAH reliant on Saudi Arabia’s massive oil reserves. His critics claim that any kind of reform was costly and based on the oil revenues.“ That was fine when prices were high, but as oil began to slide at the end of last year, things started to look far more uncertain for the Saudis”.[4] The next ruler shall deal with the shifting sands within and from outside the country.



[1]Madawi Al RASHEED, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia Obituary, as in: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/22/king-abdullah-of-saudi-arabia.

[2]Madawi Al RASHEED, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia Obituary, as in: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/22/king-abdullah-of-saudi-arabia.

[3]The Economist: Saudi Arabia monarchy, as in: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21640601-kingdom-after-king-abdullah-king-dead.

[4]Orlando Crowcroft, Saudi monarch bet big with vision for economy, as in: http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/saudi-monarch-bet-big-with-vision-for-economy.

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